Additional Resource

Interfaith Members Build Bridges of Understanding

It’s Sunday morning in Columbia, Maryland, and Mass is about to begin in one of the area’s largest Catholic congregations. On the front row of the chapel sit a Quaker, a Seventh-day Adventist, a Latter-day Saint (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), a Methodist and two members of the Jewish faith.


Scenes like this occur every month thanks to the Howard County Faith Community Tour Group. The interfaith group attends worship services of different faiths each month to build bridges of understanding.

The tour group received its start from another local interfaith initiative called Courageous Conversations on Race and Religious Bias. This program was started in 2017 by six local faith leaders, with the sponsorship of the late Congressman Elijah Cummings and State Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary. Participants discuss race, religion and bias, and focus on honest dialogue and listening to others’ experiences. Courageous Conversations does not try to debate or convince participants about a particular religion but allows each participant to be heard and to learn from others.

Participants in the 2019 Courageous Conversations were encouraged to expand the conversations beyond the discussion circles. “Congressman Cummings encouraged us to carry the conversation into the broader community,” said Teresa Cochran, a coordinator of the interfaith tour group.

“There was a desire to get to know more about each other’s faith traditions and practices,” said Cochran, a coordinator of the interfaith group. “A visit to a faith community that is different from your own can help break down some of the barriers that keep us from listening to and understanding the experiences of our neighbors. But it can be intimidating to walk into a church as a visitor by yourself, which is how the group visit helps.”

Cochran and Cari Larkins, a Latter-day Saint, coordinate the visits. “We coordinate in advance with the faith leader at the community we plan to visit, to choose a service that would be best for the group,” Larkins said. “We inquire about what to expect at the service and provide participants with a brief outline of the format of the service. The reception from the faith communities has been incredible, and the participants have been wonderfully surprised by how welcoming and informative the visits have been.”

Cochran noted, “One of the things that has been so inspiring about the visits, is discovering that even though we have different beliefs and traditions, we share so much in common. I’ve appreciated the goodness in others and learning more about both the similarities and the differences.”

The tour group plans a visit each month to a different faith community and hopes to eventually make it to every interested congregation in Howard County. “There are so many different faith communities to visit,” Cochran said. “I expect the group to continue meeting for years, as long there is continued interest.”

The tour group’s January visit is with the Columbia Jewish Congregation. For more information about the tour group visit its Facebook page.

Planning for the next round of Courageous Conversations is also underway. Registration is now open for the 2020 conversation circles. For more information on Courageous Conversations, visit or

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